I’m in the waiting area, listening, hoping desperately that I will hear the nurse call my name. This fishy character sitting a few feet away is making me uncomfortable. He is pestering, however politely, another patient with the questions you don’t want to be asked by a stranger. “Do you live around here?” “Did you have a lot of Christmas shoppin’ to do this year?” “You spend a lotta time at the mall?” “Are you going to ge’chu some food after this?” I gripped the health magazine more tightly, and faked great interest in an article about childhood obesity, never looking up, not wanting to be presented with the predicament that was surely to be this gentleman’s momentarily.
But the gentleman was saved. Hearing his name, he swiftly rose to follow the nurse, uttering a quick “Nice talking to you…” toward the inquiring man. And I was left there, with the character and his boisterous, toothless relative, who was not quite as friendly but far louder. Neither spoke to me, and they left with the newly appearing family member they had been waiting for, a shabby bunch indeed. Relief swept over me, and I soon strode easily to my appointment.
I do not believe this man or his aunt or the other member of the party was homeless. But I have heard of similar exchanges between people like myself – educated, working, well-fed, and in all honesty, wealthy – and people that are not like myself – unkempt, inappropriate, and most likely very hungry. And these are the conversations I try to avoid.
But my mentality is changing. I don’t want to run away from these people, because they are just that – people. Not mosquitos or dogs with rabies or poison ivy. I want to see a person walking with an old shopping buggy on Main Street, looking tired and frail, and not be scared of them. I want to see their lives change because someone bought them a meal from McDonald’s and pointed them in the right direction. They can’t be cast off. If we believe they can get on their feet, get fed, and get working, then they can.
But in order to get them on their feet, we have to pick them up.
And this is what I am exploring – the right way to pick them up.